- Associated Press - Thursday, December 5, 2019

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) - The Tampa Bay Rays head into the upcoming winter meetings in the listening phase about ways to improve a roster that came within one win of reaching the American League Championship Series last season.

“Do we have to do a lot of things? No,” Rays senior vice president of baseball operations Erik Neander said Thursday. “This offseason is a little bit different in terms of, like the needs of this club are not nearly as clear-cut and defined as they’ve been in years past.”

The franchise with baseball’s smallest payroll at just over $66 million looks to build on an outstanding 2019 in which the Rays took Houston to a deciding fifth game in the AL Division Series in their first postseason trip since 2013.

“There’s a lot of time between now and opening day,” Neander said. “I anticipate some twists and turns in terms of what our team will look like by the end of March. We’re going to be open-minded, we’re going to try to be opportunistic.”

Tampa Bay is looking for catching depth and additional offense, especially right-handed hitters.

“We have goals for the winter and where we want to be opening day, which is try to put ourselves in a position to be at least as competitive as we were last year while also be at least as strong as we are right now in our future outlook,” Neander said.

Catcher Travis d’Arnaud, who rekindled his career by hitting .263 with 16 homers in 92 games after joining the Rays midway through the season has left, signing a $16 million, two-year deal with Atlanta.

The Rays have pitching depth, with Charlie Morton, Blake Snell and Tyler Glasnow topping a rotation that has Neander not completely ruling the possibility of the team cutting back on using relievers as “openers.”

“Could, if we think that’s the best way to shape our club in total,” Neander said.

The winter meetings start Sunday in San Diego.

“It’s a nice catalyst for conversions, for activities, just having everybody under one roof,” Neander said. “It’s not a start or end point to the possibilities of what we can do with our roster and where we’ll end up.”

“We have to have a good sense for kind of where our limits are, be it by trade, be it with free agents. What we’re willing to pay, what we need to do to make it work,”Neander said.


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